William Burroughs would have been 100 this year. Not that it ever seemed likely that Burroughs would reach a century. From his early 20s onward he began regularly taking heroin, cocaine, methadone, tobacco, amphetamines and marijuana. When he couldn't get proper drugs, like the hero of his most famous novel, The Naked Lunch, he injected himself with bug spray, sniffed household solvents and drank rubbing alcohol.
You'd think that Burroughs was escaping an unhappy childhood but in fact he was born into a wealthy St Louis family in 1914, in a house with three black servants, an Irish cook and a Welsh nanny. The latter two apparently filled the young boy's head with such convincing tales of the supernatural that he believed them all his life.
Heirs to the Burroughs Adding Machine fortune, the family comfortably survived the Wall Street Crash and sent young Bill to the Los Alamos Ranch School, New Mexico, the most expensive boarding establishment in America. Harvard followed and a grand tour of Europe before Burroughs fell in with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and later Neal Cassady in New York. All four of them wanted to be writers and when Kerouac was published first their circle became known as the ''Beat Generation'', influenced as much by jazz rhythms as by classic literature. Bisexual, hedonistic, low-rent and self-important, the Beats broke the mould of what it meant to be an American writer in the 1950s. Authenticity was the great thing: you wrote about drugs and sex and your feelings, not about corporation shills in ties being unfaithful to their Betty Draper wives in the identikit suburbs.
All of Burroughs' early literary experiments, however, failed miserably and he moved to Mexico where there was easy access to heroin and boys. One drunken night in Mexico City while attempting to demonstrate his marksmanship, he shot and killed his surprisingly tolerant wife, Joan Vollmer. The Burroughs family hired expensive lawyers and Bill was released after less than two weeks in jail, with a sentence of probation and a few churlish complaints about the cold prison beds.
He moved to New York and then to Tangier and began to write in earnest, as an attempt to exorcise the ''Ugly Spirit'' that he said had forced him to kill Joan. Junkie was published in a paperback edition that sold 150,000 copies. The Naked Lunch followed soon thereafter and, like James Joyce's Ulysses, had the great luck to be condemned by the United States Post Office as obscene, thus assuring its place in the counterculture.
Barry Miles, drawing on the previous research of James Grauerholz and his own 30-year friendship with Burroughs, has produced an encyclopaedic and staggeringly well-researched book. In William S. Burroughs: A Life we discover Bill in his Scientology phase attempting surreptitiously to tape record L. Ron Hubbard. Paul McCartney shows up to write Eleanor Rigby in Burroughs' basement. Bill is there when a drunken Kerouac is famously destroyed on American television by William F. Buckley. And in the funniest episode in the book, Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg visit a paranoid Louis-Ferdinand Celine, who assures them his snarling attack dogs are trained only to go after the postman.
Throughout the '60s and '70s the Burroughs cult grows. He appears next to Marilyn Monroe on the cover of The Beatles' Sgt Pepper album and on a 1981 episode of Saturday Night Live, supermodel Lauren Hutton introduces him as the ''greatest living writer in America''. Burroughs writes, paints, acts in movies and becomes very famous indeed. Once the hippest guy in the room, Burroughs in his later years, however, becomes something of a bore, playing with guns and babbling about magic and the occult. His reading material consists of the magazines Gun World, Gun Tests, Gun Digest, UFO Universe and Soldier of Fortune. He becomes a cuddly ''national treasure'' and does ads for Nike. He suffers fools gladly and the usual parade of sycophants and groupies make the pilgrimage to his dreary Kansas compound. One morning it's Michael Stipe standing there holding the milk, the next Bono's cuban heels come click-clacking down the drive. Bono becomes a repeat offender house-guest, which almost makes you believe in karma.
Burroughs finally dies of a heart attack in 1997, four months after Allen Ginsberg, 30 years after Kerouac and Cassady. Barry Miles thoroughly documents all of this; perhaps even a little too thoroughly, for there are only so many houses, hotels, boyfriends, liaisons, orgies, drugs, drug cures, cults, cult cures, favourite guns, least favourite guns, that the reader can handle before becoming a little overwhelmed. But in lieu of a shorter, deeper, more pointed book, Burroughs: A Life will almost certainly remain the definitive biography for many years to come.
I'm a novelist, blogger and book reviewer living in St Kilda, Australia.
this is my blog; I'm operating with terrible internet service since I moved house so I won't be blogging as often as I'd like, and alas, can't take or moderate, comments at this time...Presumably normal service will resume at some point!
The first Sean Duffy novel, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award and was picked as one of the best crime novels of the year by The Times.
The second Sean Duffy novel, I Hear The Sirens In The Street, won the 2014 Barry Award for best paperback original crime novel.
In The Morning I'll Be Gone (Sean Duffy #3) won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best novel and was picked as one of the top 10 crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association, The Daily Mail & The Toronto Star.
Gun Street Girl (Duffy #4) was shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Award, the 2015 Ned Kelly Award, The 2016 Anthony Award and was picked as one of the best books of 2015 by The Boston Globe and by The Irish Times.
Sean Duffy #5, Rain Dogs, has been shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award 2016, the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award 2016 and the 2016 Ned Kelly Award
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. After studying philosophy at Oxford University I emigrated to New York City where I lived in Harlem for seven years working in bars, bookstores, building sites and finally the basement stacks of the Columbia University Medical School Library in Washington Heights.
In 2000 I moved to Denver, Colorado where I taught high school English and started writing fiction in earnest. My first full length novel Dead I Well May Be was shortlisted for the 2004 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and was picked by Booklist as one of the 10 best crime novels of the year.
In 2008 I moved to St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia with my wife and kids and started writing full time.
"If Raymond Chandler had grown up in Northern Ireland he would have written The Cold Cold Ground."
"Hardboiled charm, evocative dialogue, an acute sense of place and a sardonic sense of humour make McKinty one of our greatest crime fiction writers."
"A literary thriller that is as concerned with exploring the poisonously claustrophobic demi-monde of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and the self-sabotaging contradictions of its place and time, as it is with providing the genre’s conventional thrills and spills. The result is a masterpiece of Troubles crime fiction: had David Peace, Eoin McNamee and Brian Moore sat down to brew up the great Troubles novel, they would have been very pleased indeed to have written The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Irish Times
"McKinty is a gifted man with poetry coursing through his veins and thrilling writing dripping from his fingertips."
---The Sunday Independent
"Adrian McKinty is fast gaining a reputation as the finest of the new generation of Irish crime writers, and it's easy to see why on the evidence of The Cold Cold Ground."
---The Glasgow Herald
"McKinty is a storyteller with the kind of style and panache that blur the line between genre and mainstream."
"McKinty's literate expertly crafted crime novel confirms his place as one of his generation's leading talents."
"McKinty crackles with raw talent. His dialogue is superb, his characters rich and his plotting tight and seemless. He writes with a wonderful and wonderfully humorous flair for language raising his work above most crime genre offerings and bumping it right up against literature."
---The San Francisco Chronicle
"The first of McKinty's Forsythe novels, "Dead I Well May Be," was intense, focused and entirely brilliant. This one is looser-limbed, funnier...so, I imagine, is the middle book, "The Dead Yard," which I haven't read but which Publishers Weekly included on its list of the 12 best novels of 2006, along with works by Peter Abrahams, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy and George Pelecanos."
---The Washington Post
"McKinty, who grew up in Northern Ireland, has an ear for language and a taste for violence, and he serves up a terrifically gory, swiftly paced thriller."
---The Miami Herald
"There's nothing like an Irish tough guy. And we're not talking about Gentleman Gerry Cooney here. No, we mean the new breed of bare-knuckle Irish writers like Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and John Connolly who are bringing fresh life to the crime fiction genre."
---The Philadelphia Inquirer
"McKinty's writing is dark and witty with gritty realism, spot on dialogue, and fascinating characters."
---The Chicago Sun-Times
"If you like your noir staples such as beautiful women, betrayal, murder, mixed with a heavy dose of blood, crunched bones, body parts flying around served up with some throwaway humour, you need look no further, McKinty delivers all of this with the added bonus that the writing is pitch perfect."
---The Barcelona Review
"I really enjoyed combination of toughness and a striking literary style."
"This is a terrific read. McKinty gives us a strong non stop story with attractive characters and fine writing."
---The Morning Star
"[McKinty] draws us close and relates a fantastic tale of murder and revenge in low, wry tones, as if from the next barstool...he drops out of conversational mode to throw in a few breathtaking fever-dream sequences for flavor. And then he springs an ending so right and satisfying it leaves us numb with delight and ready to pop for another round. Start the cliche machine: This is a profoundly satisfying book from a major new talent and one of the best crime fiction debuts of the year."
"The story is soaked in the holy trinity of the noir thriller: betrayal, money and murder, but seen through with a panache and political awareness that give McKinty a keen edge over his rivals."
---The Big Issue
"A darkly humorous cross between a hard-boiled mystery and a Beat novel."
---The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"A roller coaster of highs and lows, light humour and dark deeds, the powerful undercurrent of McKinty's talent will swiftly drag you away. Let's hope the author does not slow down anytime soon."
---The Irish Examiner
"A virtual carnival of slaughter."
---The Wall Street Journal
"McKinty has once again harnassed the power of poetry, violence, lust and revenge to forge another terrific novel."
---The Irish Post
"A pacey, violent caper in which McKinty vividly portrays [Belfast's] sleazy, still-menacing underbelly."
---The Sunday Times
"McKinty writes with the soul of a poet; his prose dances off the pages with Old World grace and haunting intensity. It's crime fiction on the level of Michael Connolly with the conviction of James Hall."
---The Jackson Clarion-Ledger
"The Bloomsday Dead is the explosive final installment in a trilogy of kinetic thrillers."
---The New York Times
"McKinty's Dead Trilogy has been praised by critics, who call it "intense," "masterful" and "loaded with action." If your reading pleasure leans toward thrillers offering suspense, close calls, wry wit, sharp dialogue, local color and sudden mayhem, you wont do better."
---The Sacramento Bee
"Le Fleuve caché d'Adrian McKinty impressionne par la richesse et la diversité de son ton et de son écriture, passant avec aisance du lyrisme ample de la nostalgie de l'amour perdu au rythme saccadé du narrateur sous l'emprise de l'héroïne. Ce livre rare et maîtrisé est une réussite bien digne de la Série noire."
"McKinty - that guy is a friggin genius."
"McKinty is a cross between Mickey Spillane and Damon Runyan, the toughest, the best."
"Adrian McKinty is one of the great new crime writers emerging from Ireland."